The Ombudsman receives several cases from the public against government agencies. In the past, the agency has investigated the Municipal Property Tax Assessment Corporation (MPAC) and other agencies. However, the case of the Hydro One is the largest case it has handled in the recent past. Consumers and taxpayers believe that they will receive favorable outcomes by filling complaints through the Ombudsman Office.
Customers have continued to file complaints against Hydro One’s “billing practices and customer service, which have reached 2,185 complaints and submissions” (Ontario Ombudsman, 2014).
The rising number of complaints from the public against the largest electricity company shows that the Ombudsman has capabilities and resources to protect consumers and taxpayers in Canada. Customers have continued to raise questions about their high bills. In most cases, customers who file complaints through the Ombudsman Office have already visited Hydro One offices but ended without meaningful solutions. The utility company has several cases of “huge unexplained catch-up bills, multiple bills or estimated bills with no rhyme or reason” (Schnurr, 2014).
The Office of Ombudsman is independent and lacks any affiliation with political parties and the government. The main role of the office is to ensure that government agencies accounts for their activities and outcomes. It performs such roles by reviewing, investigating and acting on any issues, which may require the public to understand the role of the government in such situations. The Ombudsman Office may also start the investigation due to its own accord. The office incumbents have a five-year renewable term based on their performances and achievements. Members of various parties are responsible for the appointment of the Ombudsman. The current regime is active and has implemented several changes and proposed other suggestions.
The Ombudsman Office derives its power and legitimacy from the Constitution under the Ombudsman Act. Such power and authority offer the agency opportunities to gain access to any government office and gather evidence as the case may require. At the same time, it also enjoys the power to make any witness to provide evidence when required.
While consumers have failed to get solutions from the utility company, the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT) shall conduct a nine-month probe and concentrate on two systemic issues, which include “whether Hydro One’s customer billing practices are transparent and whether its process for responding to customer billing concerns is timely and effective” (Ontario Ombudsman, 2014).
The Ombudsman could conduct an investigation and report the outcomes to the pubic if he notes that any decisions, an act, omission or recommendation from the company go against the law, are not fair, irrational, cruel, discriminatory, wrong, do not rely on facts and just not right. In this case, any person or a government agency must work with the Ombudsman Office during investigation processes.
Given the serious nature of these allegations and the multitude affected, the Ombudsman must conduct a systemic investigation and collect enough evidence from relevant departments to handle the case successfully.
The Ombudsman Office must provide an annual report to the parliament and may make public announcement or provide a report under special circumstances.
The Ombudsman Office experiences drawbacks because of inability to prosecute any case. It strives to provide reliable solutions to the public through thorough investigations. However, a major drawback is that its recommendations are not legally binding. In addition, the persistent lack of oversight to the Ombudsman has also affected its mandate. The Office may lack abilities to conduct investigation in some areas. These aspects show that the Ombudsman Office’s ability to help the public may be limited.
Customers, including the Ombudsman Office have expressed their dissatisfaction with the level of customer service at Hydro One. The company has hindered any progress in the investigations about it conducts, billing systems and communication.
The Ombudsman Office runs on a budget like any other government agency with several employees, but its resources may not be adequate to meet the needs of thousands of customers who file complaints every month. It handles several cases from the public and could solve such cases within a given period. The Office also provides an electronic newsletter to update the public on running activities.
The Ombudsman Office acts on cases, which have sufficient grounds to warrant investigation. Thus, the case of Hydro One meets such minimum criteria for investigation. The agency must review complaints and gather adequate evidence for further investigation (Brennan and Spears, 2014).
Overall, customers who have failed to get solutions at the utility company consider the Ombudsman as the last alternative. While the agency encourages the public to find solutions through the complaint and legal procedures offered by some agencies, it ensures that the public gets satisfactory outcomes. Customers of Hydro One insist that the company has treated them unfairly, acted out of bad faith with plain, unreasonable bills. The Ombudsman Office shall investigate the issue and present its findings alongside recommended solutions to the problem. It shows the relevance of oversight and accountability, which are necessary for public companies. Therefore, the Ombudsman Office provides value to customers and taxpayers by resolving issues, which seem impossible to many.
Brennan, R., and Spears, J. (2014). Ombudsman to probe Hydro One’s ‘baffling’ billing practices. Web.
Ontario Ombudsman. (2014). Hydro One investigation update: Complaints to Ombudsman more than triple since Tuesday. Web.
Schnurr, J. (2014). Ontario Ombudsman launches Hydro One investigation. Web.